As a traveler you better get used to being asked where you are from, as this question comes up early in conversations no matter where you are going in the world. Nevertheless I was surprised to hear the Indonesian version “dari mana?” constantly when walking down the roads of Labuan Bajo. Without a greeting like “Halo” or “Selamat” it felt rather direct for the generally very modest and polite Indonesians. Of course, we didn’t want to be the rude foreigners and learned our reply: “Dari Jerman”. OK, actually Yoeri is “Belanda” by passport, but he is also a Berliner, and the Dutch are not very much loved in Indonesia.
More complicated was a second question which often followed, sometimes was even the only one asked: Ke mana? Where are you going? We were not only passing through as tourists therefore I didn’t know what to answer; hopefully nowhere for a while. Even though Labuan Bajo isn’t the most appealing place to be, it serves as a gateway to Komodo National Park with all its natural wonders as well as lush Flores. It was winter in Europe so we were definitely planning to stay in Indonesia for some time. Basically we came to stay, but on which islands and for how long we had no idea. “Where are you going?” turned out to be even more of a philosophical question revealing that we were drifting, going with the flow – quite happily, but without any proper destination or plan.
After a while we started to understand that these questions in fact are meant as a greeting. Unlike in other parts of the world where only strangers are asked, in Indonesia everybody is addressing everybody else this way. It’s simply not so much how you are doing, but where you are doing it. But even then you don’t have to be precise. You can say “jalan-jalan” for walking or my favourite expression “makan angin” (eating wind) which in a way reflected our approach to come to Indonesia quite well.
We moved on by now. But we still don’t really know where we are going or when this will happen. We are enjoying life where we are – most of the time at least. However I can show you where we are coming from and maybe where you are going to one day as we highly recommend exploring the beauties of Komodo yourself:
During the flight to Indonesia in the beginning of December 2015 I read in my diving magazine Unterwasser about Bangka Island in the North of Sulawesi: Beautiful and diverse coral reefs just outside the famous Bunaken National Marine Park – less known, but very much worth going, especially if you enjoy small island life and would like to explore dive sites where hardly anybody has dived before. This tiny island of only 48 sq km is a hotspot of biodiversity. Perfect conditions for community-based ecotourism and conservation work how it is implemented in the South of Sulawesi by Wakatobi Dive Resort since more than 20 years already. Unfortunately the reefs are not the only natural resource found in the region.
“PT Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP), an Indonesian subsidiary of Hong Kong based Aempire Resource Group, has been seeking licenses to extract iron ore from Bangka since 2008” (The Guardian, 3 April 2015). Even though a ruling of Indonesia’s Supreme Court in 2013 blocked further mining activities on Bangka the former Minister for Energy and Minerals, Jero Wacik, granted the exploitation license covering two-thirds of the island in 2014. Since then construction of mining and transportation infrastructure is causing direct demolition of reefs as well as indirect destruction via run-offs and waste products. The support campaign for the little diving heaven started immediately, but hasn’t been able to put a halt to the mining activities yet (read more on activism and diving around Bangka on Dive Advisor).
This case in the country where we hope to stay for 2016 or longer not only brought together my two passions, diving and activism, but combined the issue of marine protection with the topic that kept me pretty busy in 2015. After we came back from St. Eustatius in June I started researching the global impact of European trade and investment policy on exploitation of raw materials for PowerShift e.V. and the campaign Stop Mad Mining. Finally the study has been published! In German though: Alles für uns!? Der globale Einfluss der europäischen Handels- und Investitionspolitik auf Rohstoffausbeutung. Even though the EU calls her newest trade and investment strategy “Trade for all” it is clearly in the interest of big European corporations while democratic, sustainable, transparent and fair concepts of governing the natural resources from civil societies as well as Governments in resource rich countries are undermined.
Local populations are the ones who are most likely to lose everything: Their land, their intact (marine) ecosystems, their livelihood, and their future. “Bangka Island’s 2700 residents make their living fishing, tending coconut and cashew plantations, and catering to a growing tourism trade based on the coral reef. Residents are virtually united in their rejection of the mine, concerned it will threaten coral reefs and diminish fishing yields” (Inside Indonesia, April-June 2014). Mining doesn’t bring jobs or economic development to the region – or in this case island. In most cases local populations are not profiting from the infrastructure or getting any sort of revenue of mining projects. The Indonesian government tried to increase the national benefits of their natural resources, but rolled new mining law in 2014 when Newmount Mining used the ISDS mechanism (investor-state dispute settlement) of a Bilateral Investment Treaty to sue Indonesia for compensation (Hilde van der Pas and Riza Damanik): “The case of Newmont Mining vs Indonesia is a powerful example of how investment agreements, particularly Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), are used by companies to get exemptions from government regulations and legislation, undermining democracy and development.”
ISDS is a corporate weapon against public policies worldwide and is used to discipline states once a foreign corporation has invested in a country which signed BITs. But in the case of Bangka there was actually an Indonesian law prior to granting the exploitation license which prohibits mining on islands smaller than 2,000 sq km. Inside Indonesia writes: “Only weeks after the re-zoning, in December 2013, the Indonesian parliament revised Law no. 27/2007 to allow large-scale extractive industry investment on five small islands previously protected by small island conservation provisions – including Bangka. The revision was enacted very quietly.” Money talks, one could think. And in another mining case in Indonesia there is actually proof.
During that same flight I read about a corruption case that would be debated in Indonesia in December 2015: “The speaker of the House of Representatives, Setya Novanto, stood accused of trying to extort $4 billion in shares from the local unit of the American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan” (The New York Times, 17 December 2015). The operation license for the company’s Grasberg mine is ending in 2021. The controversial project in the East of Indonesia is the world’s largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine (collection on Grasberg mine by the London Mining Network). Mining friendly decisions on all levels are contrasting to the attempts to increase (eco and diving) tourism in the country. Digging and diving is a bad match.
Or so I thought: A couple of weeks later on a diving boat in Komodo National Park I met an engineer who is working in the Grasberg mine. Strangely enough his holiday love affair was a NGO campaigner from Peru who needed a little break from fighting to keep roads, illegal settlements and the oil industry out of natural and indigenous reserves.
The only way to explore the water world of Komodo Nationalpark: boat! But it’s more than just a way to travel. We enjoy the view of the islands in the sky before diving into the endless ocean and the sparkling sun on the water when getting back up after another magnificent dive part of the Flores Sea. Come to think of it: We actually wouldn’t mind to live aboard.